The largest protected tropical rainforest in Africa – Salonga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo – is at risk from oil exploration thanks to a secretive deal with an opaque company.
As we have previously revealed, the Democratic Republic of Congo government is attempting to reclassify swathes of two UNESCO protected World Heritage Sites – Salonga and Virunga National Parks – to allow oil exploration to take place. In our new investigation, we shine a light on the opaque ownership and secret deals of one company that potentially stands to gain from government attempts to open up the area to oil, COMICO, which was allocated an oil block that partially overlaps Salonga National Park.
We expose how individuals involved in the original deal to purchase these controversial oil rights include a politically connected individual, a convicted fraudster, a businessman embroiled in the Brazilian ‘Car Wash’ scandal and mysterious shell companies.
Moreover, the details of the contract remain unknown, in contravention of Congo’s own oil law.
One of Africa’s most stunning parks – Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo – has suffered a major blow following the killing of a ranger, and the abduction of two British tourists, who were later released.
The attack has forced the park’s boss – Belgian prince Emmanuel de Merode – to announce a suspension of tourism.
This will be another setback to efforts to earn much-needed income to protect the World Heritage Site from the lawlessness that has gripped the region since the fall of long-serving ruler Mobutu Sese Seko more than two decades ago.
How dangerous is Virunga?
Boasting Africa’s most diverse wildlife, Virunga – which stretches across 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.
The extent of the threat is reflected by the fact that between 1,500 and 2,000 armed fighters – according to Mr De Merode – roam Virunga and its surrounding areas.
They belong to numerous different rebel groups, who battle for control of the region’s rich resources.
They fish illegally, slaughter its animals, fell its trees – and kill, rape and abduct locals and foreigners alike.
The Britons were visiting Virunga National Park when they were ambushed by men who killed the park ranger travelling with them.
Two Britons who were kidnapped and held hostage in the Democratic Republic of Congo have said they are “very relieved” to have been released.
Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty were among three people abducted by unidentified armed men while visiting Virunga National Park, a renowned gorilla sanctuary in the east of the country.
In a statement, the pair said: “We are very relieved that there has been a positive outcome to the kidnapping and are very grateful for the excellent support we have received. We do not plan to comment further.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “delighted” to announce their release.
“I pay tribute to the DRC authorities and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation for their tireless help during this terrible case,” he said.
A 25-year-old park ranger travelling with Ms Davies and Mr Jesty was killed and their driver was also taken captive, a park spokesman said.
They were taken while visiting the Virunga National Park, a renowned gorilla sanctuary in the east of the African country.
Two British citizens have been kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Foreign Office has confirmed.
The pair are believed to have been visiting the Virunga National Park, a gorilla sanctuary in the east of the African country, when they were abducted on Friday.
The Britons were among a group of people taken hostage, according to a spokesperson for the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN).
A female park ranger travelling with them was killed and their driver was also abducted, a park spokesman said.
Their vehicle was ambushed while bringing the tourists from Kibumba to the city of Goma, Joel Wengamulay, ICCN spokesman told the UN-backed Radio Okapi.
“For the moment the (ICCN) cannot communicate much about the incident because the hostages are still in captivity. That would put their lives in danger,” he said, adding that investigations have begun into the attack.
The threatened Virunga National Park in DR Congo announced on Thursday it has banned the felling of trees throughout the nature reserve.
“The management of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature wishes to bring to the attention of the resident of Beni and its surroundings that it is forbidden to fell trees in the park,” a statement read.
“The incentives to destroy the park are contrary to the rule of law and destroy the common heritage for the benefit of individual and illicit enrichment.”
Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is threatened by numerous armed groups in the region, including Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
It is Africa’s oldest national park and is Africa’s most biologically diverse protected area of some 7,800 square kilometres (3,000 square miles), according to its website.
Joel Wengamulay, a communication officer for the park, told AFP that “unknown people sell spaces inside the park for $250 (210 euro) and take advantage of the situation to cut down trees and make more money” in the Beni area, especially near the Ugandan border.
Democratic Republic of Congo’s government is seeking to reclassify swathes of two UNESCO-listed parks so that oil exploration can be carried out there, an investigative group said.
The London-based NGO Global Witness said it had seen documents about a scheme to “redraw the boundaries” of the fabled Salonga and Virunga national parks, home to many of the planet’s endangered species.
The move would remove protected status from areas for which oil licences have been awarded, thus enabling exploration there to go ahead, it said on Thursday.
A special commission of ministers and DRC civil servants met on April 27 to push through the plan, it said.
The group said documents signed by DRC’s oil minister, Aime Ngoi Muken, set out the legal framework for changing the areas’ status.
“The proposals ride roughshod over Congo’s UNESCO commitments and are incompatible with the parks’ World Heritage Status,” Global Witness said.
More than a fifth of the Virunga National Park, the oldest wildlife reserve in Africa, would be affected by the reclassification, it said.
Salonga park sits on peatlands that scientists say could release massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere if disturbed
DAKAR, Feb 15 (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s oil minister on Thursday defended the country’s right to explore for oil anywhere on its territory after media reports that President Joseph Kabila approved drilling in Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve.
Oil minister Aime Ngoy Mukena declined to confirm a report in Germany’s Die Tageszeitung newspaper that Kabila had this month authorised exploration inside Salonga National Park, but he said that no land should be off-limits.
Salonga, a UNESCO World Heritage site, covers 33,350 sq km of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest rainforest. It is home to rare species including bonobos, forest elephants, dwarf chimpanzees and Congo peacocks.
The park in central Congo’s Cuvette Centrale also sits on peatlands that scientists say could release massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmsophere if disturbed.
Ngoy Mukena said the government was mindful of environmental considerations but was intent on developing its hydrocarbons sector.
Garamba National Park in northeastern Congo is one of the most dangerous places to be a wildlife ranger and one of the most difficult places to save elephants from rampaging militias.
Kambale Mate huddled beneath a tangle of grass, looking up at bright stars in a moonless sky, a tumble of chaotic events cascading through his mind.
Where were the other wildlife rangers, Jean de Dieu Matongo and Joel Meriko Ari? Were they alive?
He had been a ranger for only five months at Garamba National Park, the last remaining preserve for disappearing populations of elephants and giraffes in this part of Africa. Yet here he was with two comrades, hiding like small, petrified mammals in the grass. If any of them moved, a large band of poachers nearby could find and kill them.